Care Order till 18 for young child where the father’s whereabouts unknown, mother uncontactable – 2023vol2#25

A care order until the age of 18 was made in the Dublin District Court for a pre-school child whose parents were uncontactable. The father had recently been released from prison and the mother had mental health issues and poly-substance abuse. The child had suffered neglect in a very chaotic house, the court heard.

The parents were both called at the start of the case. The court was told that since he had left prison the father’s whereabouts were unknown and his phone number kept changing. The father had previously engaged with the Child and Family Agency (CFA). The mother was known to the mental health services and the CFA but had not been engaged in relation to the case.

The mother’s solicitor said the mother had been present on the last date but she had no phone and was relying on postal communications, the post serving her with notice of the proceedings had not been returned and no instructions had been received.

The first witness called was the community mental health nurse who provided a summary of his interactions with the mother to date. She had been referred to the services in 1990. There was a history of her failing to attend appointments. He said she had poly-substance psychosis. In relation to visits at the home, it had been difficult to gain access and there was no phone contact. He said she had received injections monthly but avoided having the injections when she was pregnant.

The child was born in early 2023 and the mother had had no prenatal or GP visits beforehand. She was positive for opiates at the time of the delivery. The mental health nurse confirmed that the service remained open to the mother but that she would need to be referred, and given that she had no regular GP she would need a GP or an A&E referral.

In relation to concerns about caring for the child, he said that the house was chaotic, that the mother’s self-care was never good, there was evidence of parties and there was no weight on her.

The social work team leader said that there had been further attempts to contact the mother by letter which had not been responded to. When the matter had been before the court on a previous occasion the judge had asked the social worker to meet with the mother and the mother said she would meet. However, she had not done so, there was no answer at the door and a letter was posted to the mother.

The social work team leader said he would continue to try and contact the mother and in the past the mother had just dropped into the office and they had tried to facilitate her. He also confirmed that the mother had a similar presentation with him as she did with the mental health nurse and he had the same concerns in relation to the mother’s mental health. The mother was not in touch with reality and she failed to attend consistently.

The child’s allocated social worker said he had gone out to the address a number of times and he had only been able to access the house once. He said when he did access it, it was dirty, there had been cans everywhere. He had sent numerous letters to her. She came unannounced to the office but failed to attend offered appointments.

In relation to the father, the social worker said he had met him a number of times in prison. He reported that the father had been happy with the care that the child was receiving and had requested that his family be involved. However, there was no positive comment from his family in respect of the father and they had said they were not able to care for the child. Since the father had been released from prison he had come to the social welfare office once but his phone was not working when they tried to call him and they had not heard from him since.

There was a care plan in place for the child, she was doing well in her placement, the family adored her and treated her like their own. The family also had another child and the children played together. She was not showing any withdrawal symptoms and she was up to date on all of her appointments. She was starting to walk, though might need some physiotherapy. She ate well and slept well and had been abroad on holidays with her foster carers. Sibling access was happening between the foster carers and the current level of arrangements were appropriate now.

The child’s foster carer was proactive and wanted to maintain the sibling access and was open to travelling for it. The social worker said that he would continue to offer the parents appointments by letter or access visits, would look to providing an access schedule and would be happy to offer appointments.

The child safety risks included the fact that the mother was actively using substances and had refused to engage, so it was difficult to form any plans which went towards her parental capacity, nothing had been addressed in relation to the father, who was also thought to be using drugs.

The social worker stated that the threshold was met and that the interim care order and full care order applications were both necessary and proportionate. The report of the guardian ad litem (GAL) was in agreement with that of the social worker. The GAL said that there should be a care order review when the child started primary school.

The judge noted neither parent was in attendance and that as a result no witnesses were called for them.

The GAL agreed with the assessment of risks. He said he was supportive of the interim care order and of the application for a section 18 care order. He had met the foster carers and agreed that the placement was meeting the child’s needs. He said that the foster mother was a stay-at-home full-time mother and the foster father was working. He said the parents were tuned into the child, she was walking and running around and her speech had come on. The foster parents were a perfect match for her and their child loves the other foster child. He recommended that the care order be made until the child turned 18 with a review before the child goes to primary school.

The judge rose and returned some time later with a written judgment. She said it was her practice to prepare a written judgment so that if at a future date the child wanted a copy of the judgment, they could know on what it was based.

The judge summarised the evidence heard and noted the reports from the mental health nurse, the social work team leader, the child’s social worker and the GAL and that the GAL supported the care order. She also noted the recommendations made. She said the evidence was clear that the threshold was met and, based on the evidence, it was in the best interests of the child to make the care order. On that basis she made the care order until the child reached 18 years of age.